This one's got Scooby Doo stank all over it! The title alone is killer, but it's the setting that puts it over the top: a desolate and abandoned evil alchemist's mansion sitting on a cliff overlooking the sea, where mysterious lights and ghostly hauntings have kept the locals away. The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
was a gaming accessory for Dungeons & Dragons meant for beginning players with beginner level characters. As such there's not a lot of serious danger here. I mean, it's all relative. In D&D a handful of burrowing grubs or giant ants could spell doom for a group of novices controlling weak characters. Little pitfalls and secrets to unearth play just as much a roll in this and most of these beginner level games. To put it another way, it was big on atmosphere, but not so much on the adventure. You needed a creative, colorful Dungeon Master (game referee) who was willing and able to play up the spooky aspects, and play it to the hilt, just like the dastardly baddies that Scooby and the gang would eventually unmask at the end of each episode. And just like that show, once the players get beyond the haunted house and realize the truth, then the action picks as they discover *spoiler stuff coming up!* the supposed haunted house is just a front for a smuggling operation! So, in a way it turns into a Hardy Boys adventure.
Once the smuggling operation is discovered, the game breaks and goes into a "part two" of sorts in which the group is tasked with raiding a pirate ship. The adventure becomes more fantastical at this point, with a little dragon and an aquatic elf popping up, two characters which may or may not help the players dependent on their actions. I always liked when these adventures included potential allies. Nothing was more boring than hacking and slashing your way through sword fodder from beginning to end. The good guys brought in another dimension to the game that made it seem more life-like.
So, as a game Sinister Secret
was so-so. It gets extra credit for its colorful details. The maps and illustrations that came with it are great! And as a whole it made an okay start for a D&D campaign. Even better though, this was the beginning of a series that similarly had to do with seaside adventures where water was an important element, a rare thing in a world mostly lived in the underground lairs of ghoulish beasties.